RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — One lawmaker wants to change how schools across Virginia are notified about employee arrests and convictions. It comes after information about one sex offender fell through the cracks.
Darren Thornton, a former counselor at Glasgow Middle School in Fairfax County, kept his job for 20 months after being charged with soliciting prostitution from a minor in Chesterfield County. Thornton, who was found guilty, was ultimately fired after the conclusion of the 2021-2022 school year when the oversight was discovered.
The Chesterfield County Police Department said they attempted to notify Fairfax County Public School officials immediately after the arrest in an email on Nov. 20, 2020, but the message was never delivered.
As a result of the incident, Fairfax County parent and state Senator Scott Surovell is planning to introduce a bill in the 2023 session that fixes how information like this is shared.
“The idea that a convicted sex offender was sitting around a Fairfax County middle school counseling children was pretty distressing for a lot of people. These are things that I think most people thought we had taken care of decades ago,” Surovell said. “I think it is a pretty easy problem to solve.”
Surovell said current state law is too vague and doesn’t specify how schools should be notified when an employee is arrested. He said his bill would require more specific procedures for reporting various misdemeanor and felony offenses, including sex crimes.
“It clarifies that notice needs to be made in one of two ways, either by certified mail with a return receipt or by fax and email. That way, you will have written documentation as to whether or not something was sent and received or whether it was returned,” Surovell said.
Surovell said his bill would also direct the state superintendent of public instruction to collect contact information for every school district and publish a list outlining exactly where criminal history notices should be sent.
During his employment with Fairfax County Public Schools, Thornton reportedly lied when he registered as a sex offender and said he was self-employed. Surovell said his bill would address that too by requiring verification of employment status with the Virginia Employment Commission after any arrest for a sex offense.
Further down the road, Surovell said a modernized Virginia State Police database will help prevent cases like this from flying under the radar by enabling automated alerts for employers on criminal history updates.
“Right now, lots of times people are arrested for things that just slip through the cracks and the employer never finds out about it. That’s going to change very soon in 2025 for all types of employment in Virginia,” Surovell said.
“As we plan to work with identifying and implementing strong systems of accountability, it will be important that we implement these actions with fidelity and have frequent accountability checks,” the letter said.
Chesterfield Police Chief Jeffrey Katz declined several interview requests but responded in a text.
“I think all of the focus on email difficulties misses the larger and more important point when it comes to public safety: why was this guy not in jail? Why did he serve NO time? If he had done two weeks – two weeks in jail – he would have had to explain to his employer why he wasn’t coming to work, but he was literally ‘free’ to deceive,” Katz wrote.
Katz said this a symptom of the intentional “deconstruction” of the criminal justice system.
“It’s failing spectacularly to the detriment of those in our communities who are most vulnerable to predatory behavior,” Katz said.